Day 66 (Thurs 14 Jan): Fielding to Palmerston North
Started 8.55am, finished 1.50pm, 17k.
Pain in the head status: Persisting mild pain but still ignorable.
Word of the day: Ontological, related to the branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature of being.
The path out of Fielding took us alongside the railway line and away from the state highway. More back roads, until just before Bunnythorpe, when we dived off piste into an overgrown track that crossed a couple of small streams, one with a small resident eel, filled our boots with grass seed and spat us out within sight of the Bunnythorpe diary. It had been days since the last ice cream so I took this opportunity with both hands, and bought a trumpet colossal cone.
While eating our trumpets, we pondered Bunnythorpe’s main attraction, the old Glaxo Laboratory building, which made baby formula in 1904, later moving into pharmaceuticals, then becoming part of the large UK company GlaxoSmithKline in 2000. Another curious fact I’ve learnt on this unusual tour of Aotearoa.
After Bunnythorpe, we were subjected to a fanciful attempt to improve the Te Araroa track by taking it off the roads. Instead of roads, we got to wade through head high grass, stumble over hoof-rutted paddocks and fail to find a path through a field of lupins. At least the livestock were friendly – a toffee coloured horned Jersey cow stared at me with disturbing intensity, then came over to lick my hand, and the chief sheep of another paddock insisted on having his head scratched.
My interactions with these curious farm animals led to some ontological pondering about the nature of a sheep or a cow, how and why we define different types of sheep and cow, and what, if anything, sheep and cows think about being sheep and cows, but such deep questions were driven out by the whomping of traffic once we got back onto a main road to Palmerston North.
Unique shop of the day: A small eatery selling only sushi and macaroons. Not a combination I would have picked but we were in need of afternoon tea so we each tested a macaroon. Thumbs up.
Day 67 (Fri 15 Jan) and Day 68 (Sat 16 Jan): Palmerston North
Pain in the head status: Migraine disappeared after another good night’s sleep.
Word of the day: Repose, state of restfulness or tranquillity (noun) or to take it easy (verb).
We had planned one having a rest day in Palmerston North but the weather forecast for the Tararuas predicted gale force winds for three or four days, right at the time we would be exposed on the tops of the range. So we opted to have another day of rest, hoping the worst of the wind will be wiped out by the time we get there. If not, we have a map and there are multiple ways to exit the Tararuas.
Our first day in Palmerston was almost like a trail day, as we had to lug our packs everywhere, while we visited the city square, did a final shop for food to tide us through ten days of remoteness and kept up our calorie and caffeine intake. All going well, we’ll only need eight days of food to take us from Palmerston North over to Upper Hutt, but the extra means we can sit out a bad bit of weather or a debilitating migraine. We are planning to deviate from the set Te Araroa route in the Tararuas- instead of exiting at Waikanae and heading down the west coast to Wellington, we want to traverse the Tararuas via the Southern Crossing and re-enter Wellington via the Hutt Valley. We’ve already walked most of the TA route on the western side, including the Paekakariki escarpment, Colonial knob and Skyline track, so this is a chance to do something new.
For our two nights of relative repose, we stayed at Whiowhio Hut, an urban DOC hut replica hosted by another Anthony and Fiona couple, who also are into trapping and have done Te Araroa (real life doppelgängers). We spent a lot of time exchanging stories and celebrating Fiona’s resignation from her unloved job at Palmerston North Hospital, which she did on the day we arrived.
The second day in Palmerston we walked around unencumbered by packs, feeling weightless and free. We checked out the Manawatu River path, the bird rescue and rehabilitation center of Wildbase, the surrounding park and gardens, and ate as much as possible, to line our stomachs for the upcoming tramp. A real tramp, which is in bush and mountains with no dairy for miles and days. Is going to be epic.
Awesome meeting of the trail: We’ve seen Anthony and Fiona’s names in hut books and read about their adventures online. It was a real treat to finally meet them in person and made it easy for the other TA walkers staying here to remember our names.